A Song of Sorrow, Part 10

A hundred dropships screamed through the Trisitanian atmosphere, making a beeline for the heart of Selorin, the Imperial Palace. On the largest of them rode His Majesty Emperor Extrator IV. It had only been a few months since Jimalin Redlamin had proclaimed himself Emperor, but in that short time he had already fully embraced his new name. He didn’t think of himself as Jimalin anymore; he was Extrator. The transformation was so complete that he didn’t even get angry when someone slipped and called him Jimalin; he simply ignored it.

Everything that Extrator did was carefully considered, and the choice of his name was no exception. All three of the previous Emperors named Extrator had been long-lived and ruled over times of great prosperity. Extrator IV considered this a good omen, one which was compounded by the fact that Extrator I had ruled during the year 1000. Extrator IV was a great believer in signs and the significance of numbers, and this seemed auspicious.

He was currently in prayer, as usual. Prayer fueled every action that he took, and this would be one of the most important actions he ever embarked upon. Seizing the Palace was essential to his plan to heal the Empire. With the capital in his possession, it would legitimize his rule and provide him a solid base from which to reconquer the rest of the Empire. It was imperative to him that he know the will of the One in this, and in all matters.

He gradually realized that there was a young female lieutenant standing nearby, shuffling her feet nervously and waiting for him to become aware of her. He finished his prayer, and then, without opening his eyes, commanded her to speak.

“Your Majesty,” she said anxiously, “we have a minor situation on the surface. We’ve been trying to contact the Palace, and there has been no response.” The Emperor was silent for a few moments.

“I see,” he said softly, without opening his eyes. “Where is General Hoshic?”

“He is in the operations center, Your Majesty, trying to figure out what’s going on,” the lieutenant said apologetically. “We’ve sent messages to the Legion of the Heart and the ISS on every frequency, and we have not received any response.” She hesitated, and then continued speaking. “That’s not all, Your Majesty.” The Emperor opened his eyes at this, and the lieutenant swallowed hard at his look. “We’re getting reports that some sort of civilian mob is trying to break into the Palace. We don’t know exactly how many there are, but there seems to be at least fifty thousand of them. They’re lightly armed, but they seem determined. As far as we can tell, the Legion has the Palace on lockdown, but they don’t seem to be doing anything else to fight them off.” The Emperor frowned at this.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” he said, “Please tell General Hoshic to come see me immediately.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” she said with a bow, and then rushed off to find Hoshic. Extrator returned to his prayers while he awaited the general’s arrival.

He didn’t have to wait long. He looked up as the door to his quarters opened and General Hoshic entered. Izik Hoshic was the archetypical military career man. He had a buzz cut and was clean shaven, and he had a long scar that went from just below his right eye, across his cheek, and down to his chin. He had hard, grey eyes that matched his hair, and his face looked like it was chiseled roughly from a block of granite. He was short, only about 5’4, but his frame was lean and powerful. He had been a Colonel prior to the destruction of the Senate, and Governor Redlamin’s chief military advisor. Once Redlamin proclaimed himself Emperor, he had promoted Hoshic to General and named him Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces.

“I see you got my message, Jim,” Hoshic said in a deep, gravelly voice. The Emperor stared at him blankly for a few moments, until Hoshic realized his mistake. “Uh, I mean, Your Majesty.” The Emperor was a stickler for propriety, even among his closest friends.

“I did,” the Emperor said quietly. “Have you been able to figure out anything else about the situation?”

“No, and it’s really pissing me off,” the General said, spitting in disgust. The Emperor stared coldly at the small glob of spit that had landed on the floor. He’d always disapproved of this habit, but he’d never been able to figure out how to get Hoshic to stop. “Nobody seems to have any idea what’s going on in the Palace. I’ve contacted other units in Selorin and throughout Trisitania, but nobody has had any contact with the Legion, or anyone else in the Palace.” The Emperor frowned thoughtfully.

“A vexing problem,” he said, “Hopefully it won’t prove to be an issue. Even if the Legion has decided to betray us, we should be able to overwhelm them and seize the Palace. After all, we have fifty times as many troops as they do.”

“True,” replied Hoshic, “but the Palace is very easy to defend, and the Legion is the best of the best. We’ll suffer heavy casualties if we have to take the Palace by force.” The Emperor shook his head.

“We can’t do anything about that right now,” he said dismissively, “What about this mob?”

“Buncha civilians,” growled Hoshic, “Mostly college kids from IU. They seem to have some grand and glorious idea about seizing the Throne and restoring it to the people, whatever that means.”

“Hmmm,” said Extrator, “Interesting. I take it they see me as an usurper?” Hoshic nodded. “Very well. We will wait and see what happens. Once we have the Palace, we’ll talk to them and see if they accept my rule. If they don’t, we will kill them.” Hoshic nodded again, a cruel smile spreading across his face. “You are dismissed, General.” Hoshic bowed and left the room, leaving Extrator to his thoughts. He didn’t want to kill thousands of civilians, but they couldn’t be allowed to stand in his way. He was the chosen of the One, and if these people couldn’t see it, then they would have to be destroyed.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 9

Veshryk Jilorin emerged from the command tent to find a sea of humanity waiting for him. It heartened him to see so many people ready to stand up and fight for justice, but at the same he realized that this sea was a fraction of the size it had been a few hours ago. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He thought this would happen, but he’d hoped against hope that he would be wrong.

Still, he believed the words he’d just spoken to his friends. Even if he was the only one willing to storm the gates of the Imperial Palace, he would still go. He wished the entire city would rise up to overthrow those who would usurp the Imperial Throne, but he would make do with what he had.

“Citizens!” he yelled out in a loud, clear voice. “We are here to restore the Empire to its people, to take back the Throne from those who think it is a plaything to be seized by force! The forces of evil and corruption are laid out against us, but we will meet them head on, and we will prevail!” Massive cheers broke out as soon as he stopped speaking. He thrust his fists into the air, and the crowds arrayed before him responded in kind. And then, the march began. With him at the head, the mass of humanity gathered in the plaza moved as one toward the gates of the Imperial Palace. Toward victory, or death.

They didn’t have far to go, as the Citizen’s Plaza was situated right next to the wall that ran around the Palace. The Palace itself was massive yet beautiful structure, a masterpiece of art and engineering, the pride of the Trisitanian Empire. Legend said it had been built by the heroes of the First War, Fealdor, Alaram and Meshara, forged from pure Nexus energy to symbolize the victory of humanity over the Dark Lord Malachi. Jilorin didn’t know if that was true, or if any of those legendary figures had even existed, but there was no denying that the Palace was a marvel.

The crowd surged toward the gates and quickly began pressing up against them. The gates themselves were 20 feet tall and 40 feet wide, and made from a mylium and arvinium alloy, the same material that was used to construct starship hulls. The sheer mass of the crowds pushed on the gates until the hinges started to strain, and then, with an ear-splitting shriek, the hinges let go and the gates crashed to the ground.

The crowd charged forward into the courtyard in front of the palace. Jilorin allowed the momentum of the mob to carry him along, but he felt apprehensive. Now that the gates were down, he expected the heavy machine gun turrets mounted on the walls of the Palace to open fire. He was still near the front of the crowd, so he knew that once the shooting began, he’d be among the first to fall. He steeled himself, waiting for the end to come.

But it didn’t.

Jilorin was confused by this, but he didn’t have much time to think about it. The doors of the Palace, which were made from the same mylium/arvinium alloy as the gates, were sealed shut. Jilorin cried out, hoping the get the attention of the people around them and keep them from crushing themselves against the unyielding doors, but it was no use. The crowd had built up too much momentum now. There was no stopping it.

Fortunately for Jilorin himself, he had managed to move closer to the middle, and so he was in no immediate danger of being crushed, but that wasn’t true of the people in the front. Blinded by their rage and their burning desire for victory, the horde charged forward, intending to smash down the Palace doors with sheer weight the same way they had knocked down the gates. But the doors were too strong for that, and their mingled shouts of anger and excitement turned to screams of pain and terror as they were slowly crushed between the doors and the inexorable mass of the swarm behind them.

Jilorin tried desperately to get the attention of the people around him, to get them to stop their forward momentum. Here and there, he saw others doing the same thing, and slowly but surely people started to understand what was going on and stopped trying to press forward. But the damage had already been done. As the crowd slowly backed away from the doors, a grisly scene became visible. At least two dozen people were dead, their bodies bleeding and broken. A sort of quiet horror spread through the crowd, as the seriousness of what they were doing began to dawn on them.

“Citizens!” Jilorin called out into this quiet. “Mourn for your fallen comrades, but do not linger! We need to find another way into the Palace! No force we possess will bring these doors down!” There was a few more moments of silence, and then a quiet murmuring began to spread through the crowd. People began moving in all directions throughout the courtyard, searching for another entrance that wasn’t so tightly secured. Jilorin was saddened to see some people headed back through the gates, but he wasn’t terribly surprised. Part of him was even tempted to join them. For all his bravado, he wasn’t really ready to die. But he couldn’t bring himself to turn on his back on his ideals, and more importantly, on the people who followed him.

More to the point, he was puzzled as to what exactly was going on. Obviously the Legion was aware of the situation to some extent, hence the lockdown, but why weren’t they shooting? Jilorin could see several remotely-operated heavy machine gun turrets mounted on the walls from where he was standing. Why were they silent? Something strange was going on, and Jilorin had a sinking feeling it couldn’t mean anything good for his people.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 8

“We need to move quickly if this is going to work,” said Hana Lodimeur. “We need to have firm control of the Palace before Redlamin’s troops get here, or else we’ll be crushed between them and the Legion of the Heart. If we can gain control of the Palace, we’ll be in a defensible position and we’ll be fairly well armed as well.” Lodimeur was standing in the command tent with Veshryk Jilorin, Niven Umior and a fourth member of the core group, Shilmek Aladia. They were all looking at tablets that contained various materials related to their plans: maps of the Palace, maps of the surrounding area, news reports, messages from friends in the Imperial Fleet, and so forth.

“That’s fine,” said Aladia, “but how do we actually get into the Palace? We have the advantage of numbers, but none of us are soldiers, and we don’t have many weapons either. The Palace will be a great place for us to hole up, but that’s true for the Legion as well.” Aladia was tall and willowy, with long but wispy blonde hair. She had large, luminous eyes and mannerisms that made her seem dreamy and unfocused, but in reality she was the most pragmatic and down-to-earth person in the group.

“That is the question, isn’t it?” said Jilorin with a sigh. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair, leaving it sticking out at wild angles. He was small, mousy and unassuming, but he had a certain charisma that tended to make people want to follow him and dedicate themselves to his cause. “It sucks that we don’t have better maps. I mean, I know why we don’t. But seriously, this would be so much easier if we knew where, say, the Legion barracks were.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have time to come up with a solid plan, anyway,” said Lodimeur with a scowl. “All we can really do is rush the gates and hope that the weight of our numbers overwhelms the Legion. Then we hunker down and try to hold off Redlamin for as long as we can.” Lodimeur, like the rest of them, had no direct military experience, but both of her parents were officers in the Imperial Fleet, so she at least had been exposed to military tactics.

“That’s insane!” said Umior angrily. “We don’t know much about the Palace’s defenses, but we know they have heavy machine gun turrets mounted at the main entrance. If we just try to rush in there, it’ll be a massacre!”

“It’ll be a massacre if we just sit here and wait for Redlamin!” shouted Lodimeur, her eyes flaring. “At least if we try to take the Palace, we’ll have a chance! If we don’t, we’ll be obliterated! I don’t know how many troops Redlamin has, but I’ll bet it’s a lot more than two thousand! And Redlamin is not going to brook ANY opposition to his rule! He’s not a pushover like Finegal. He won’t have any qualms about killing a hundred thousand civilians if he thinks it’s the right thing to do.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about Redlamin,” Jilorin said quietly. Lodimeur turned her glare on him for a few moments, and then sighed heavily, her expression softening.

“My father was stationed on Bliddle a few years ago, before the war started,” she said wearily, “He was Redlamin’s chief military advisor. Trust me, I know Redlamin better than I want to. He sees the world in terms of black and white. Something is either good and must be accomplished at all costs, or bad and must be stopped at all costs. If Redlamin thinks that the One is calling him to be Emperor, only his death will keep him off of the Throne.” She frowned down at the map in front of her.

“Well, wait,” Aladia said, “are you saying that we need to kill Redlamin in order to win? How are we going to do that?”

“I don’t know what I’m saying,” Lodimeur said quietly. She continued to stare down at the tablet in front of her, while her friends just watched her. Then she looked up, the fire in her eyes replaced with despair. “We’re all going to die, aren’t we?” she whispered.

This caused a variety of reactions from her friends. Aladia gasped and covered her mouth in shock, Umior yelled, “No! We’re going to win!” in a too-loud voice, but Jilorin’s expression barely changed, aside from a narrowing of his eyes and a tightening of his lips. Lodimeur made eye contact with him, and it was obvious they were on the same page.

“You’re right,” he said quietly, eliciting a louder gasp from Aladia and a louder exclamation of denial from Umior. “We are going to die. We have superior numbers, but we have no training and hardly any weapons. And how reliable are our numbers? There are a hundred thousand people in the plaza right now, but how many of them will storm the Palace with us? How many will just slip away into the city when the fighting starts? No, we have no hope.”

“But it doesn’t matter,” he continued, his gaze and voice suddenly as hard as iron. “I have to do this anyway. I have to stand up for what’s right and what’s good, even if it costs me my life. I can’t, and won’t, make anyone go with me. I have no right to tell you to give up your life for this cause. But I’m going, and I’ll go alone if I have to.” There was silence in the tent as Jilorin finished speaking, and then, one by one, all three of them nodded in agreement. As soon as they did so, another member of the group came into the tent.

“We’re all set,” he said, “Everybody’s ready to go.”

“Okay,” said Jilorin firmly. “Then let’s do this. And remember: no matter what happens today, we stand for the Empire, and for the people.” All of them nodded, and then they left the tent, their faces showing mingled fear, excitement, and determination.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 7

Veshryk Jilorin never expected that he would someday become a protestor, much less a leader of protestors. For his entire life, he had been quiet and unassuming, wholeheartedly focused on academic excellence and keeping his head down so that nothing would distract him from that pursuit. He was a third-year student at Imperial University, the most prestigious school in the entire galaxy. He had begun his studies there about a month before the destruction of the Senate, but even that event and the wars and chaos that ensued had failed to distract him.

Like so many others, though, the brazen way that Adlamor Finegal had seized the Imperial Throne after the death of Embamor II shocked and offended him. Few people had been happy about Embamor doing the same thing, but for the most part, they accepted his explanation that there was no other option in a time of crisis. They also believed the new Emperor when he said that he would deal with the terrorists quickly and then abdicate in favor of a legally elected Emperor or Empress.

Three years later, and the citizens of Trisitania were in a much less forgiving mood. Three years of war, conscription, food shortages, and constant bad news were causing a demand for a return to law and order, and that meant, among other things, an Emperor legally elected by a properly constituted Senate. The problem was that there still was no Senate, but that fact just made people angrier. And Veshryk Jilorin was one of the angriest of all.

Immediately after “Preclonus IV” (a name that Jilorin and his followers refused to use, preferring to call him “the Pretender”) gave his coronation speech, Jilorin had begun organizing his fellow students into a movement to protest Finegal’s illegal ascension to the Throne. Jilorin had never been particularly social, so he was somewhat surprised to discover that he had a natural talent for organizing and inspiring people to action. Of course, it helped that he was working on a cause that he passionately believed in.

A few days after the coronation speech, Jilorin had organized a meeting to discuss what to do about the Pretender. Twenty people showed up. The next day, another meeting attracted over a hundred people. Within a week, ten thousand people, almost a quarter of the entire student body of Imperial University, were attending his rallies. Such gigantic meetings attracted the ire of IU’s administration, so they relocated to the Citizen’s Plaza, a vast open area in front of the Imperial Palace. Once settled in perhaps the most centrally located and visible public place in Selorin, the ranks of the protestors swelled. Now there were over a hundred thousand citizens camped in front of the Palace, demanding the immediate abdication of the Pretender.

Unfortunately, Jilorin’s group were not the only ones upset about the Pretender, and other groups were less concerned about maintaining the peace. Jilorin was adamant that they were not trying to overthrow the Empire; instead, they just wanted a legitimate Emperor. Not everyone in Selorin felt that way. There were republican groups that were taking advantage of the situation to press their agenda with violence. There were also various groups that just wanted to cause as much chaos as they could for their own gain. Jilorin also suspected that there were Fangalin units operating in the city, as well.

Jilorin tried not to worry about all of that. His responsibility was to his cause, and to the people who had chosen to follow him. He was confident that the end was in sight. The Pretender had no support in the provinces, and the only military unit on Trisitania that backed him was the Legion of the Heart. Every other unit seemed to be standing aside to see what happened. Unfortunately, none of them had joined Jilorin’s movement, but he had persuaded himself that they would join him once the rightness of his cause had been demonstrated.

That demonstration would happen soon. Jilorin and his closest confidants were planning to storm the Imperial Palace in the next few days. The Legion of the Heart only had about two thousand troops, so Jilorin’s one hundred thousand followers would be able to overwhelm them through force of numbers alone. Once the people held the Palace, the process of electing a Senate, and then an Emperor, could finally begin.

“How are things going?” he asked as he stepped into the tent that had become the protestors’ de facto command center.

“Not so good, Vesh,” said one of the people in the tent, a serious-looking young woman named Hana Lodimeur. She was one of the members of the inner circle of the movement, one of the twenty who had been at the original meeting. She was of average height, and slender, with short brown hair that looked as if it were rarely washed or combed. She probably would have been pretty if she paid any attention to her appearance, but her energy and attention was directed elsewhere.

“What do you mean, Hana?” Jilorin said, concerned.

“I mean that there’s another pretender to worry about,” she replied. “Jimalin Redlamin just arrived in orbit with a fleet of warships, full of Imperial Army troops. He intends to storm the Palace, remove its current occupant, and take his place.” Her eyes burned with fury as she spoke, and Jilorin found himself mirroring that fury. These pretenders were acting like toddlers, fighting over a shiny toy! The Imperial Throne was not a plaything to be seized by whoever had the most guns and soldiers!

“This changes nothing!” yelled another occupant of the tent. This was Niven Umior, another of the original twenty. Tall and lanky, with an unruly shock of long black hair, Umior was usually the most laid-back member of the group, smiling and laughing about everything. But right now he was just as furious as Lodimeur and Jilorin.

“We will seize the Palace, and we will show these pretenders what it means to disregard the will of the people!” he continued, thrusting a fist into the air. Everyone in the tent cheered, and Jilorin found himself joining in. Umior was right. Once the people held the Palace, all would be made right. Their cause was just, and justice would always win out in the end.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 6

Decimator was one of the newest and most powerful cruisers in the Imperial Fleet. Its captain was a young woman named Kryla Zomulin, one of many officers who had advanced quickly due to the death of so many senior officers in the destruction of the Senate and the subsequent defection of many units to Fangalin and Hadramoris. Four years ago she had been a brand new second lieutenant, fresh out of the Imperial Military Academy. It still didn’t seem quite real to her. She often worried that her new responsibilities would prove to be too much for her, but she did her best to hide those concerns and project an air of professionalism and confidence. She felt like she owed it to her crew to keep her worries to herself.

She was short and cute, with short, blonde hair cut in the latest fashion and big blue eyes. In civilian clothes, one would never guess that she was a military officer, much less the captain of a warship. But, despite her appearance and her inner doubts, she was calm and authoritative, and was well-respected by those above and below her in the Fleet.

Decimator was part of the fleet of Emperor Extrator IV, previously known as Jimalin Redlamin. Captain Zomulin didn’t particularly care who occupied the throne, but her patron, Admiral Abaden Lors, supported Extrator, so Zomulin supported Extrator.

“Captain, fifteen minutes until we arrive at Trisitania,” said her navigation officer, a lieutenant only a few years younger than her.

“Acknowledged, lieutenant,” she said with a small nod. She was sitting in the captain’s chair on the bridge of Decimator, feeling rather proud of herself and rather foolish at the same time. These feelings were amplified by the fact that Admiral Lors was on board, plus the Emperor himself had made Decimator his flagship. This mission was a tremendous opportunity for her to show what she was capable of but, conversely, if she screwed up there would be no hiding it.

The Admiral and the Emperor were standing side-by-side on a small rise off to her right. Both of them were silently staring at the psychedelic swirl of colors displayed on the main screen as Decimator hurtled through subspace. The Emperor was famous for his fierce piety and, looking at him, Captain Zomulin could see why. His face had the unnatural smoothness of someone who never smiled, and his eyes burned with righteous fervor. Zomulin, who was not particularly religious, found him rather intimidating.

The Admiral was the complete opposite. Zomulin knew that he was about 50 years old, but he looked much older. He had long, flowing white hair and a bushy white beard. He had the face of someone who smiled often and laughed more, and even now, his eyes twinkled as if he were on the verge of telling a particularly delightful joke. Ever since Zomulin entered the Academy, Abaden Lors had been like the indulgent grandfather she’d never had.

“One minute, Captain,” said the navigation officer. Lors noticed Zomulin studying him, and gave her a wink. She smiled shyly back, but quickly directed her attention back to her duty when she noticed the Emperor regarding her with a disapproving frown.

“Dropping out of subspace in 5…4…3…2…1,” said the navigation officer. There was a deep thrum and the ship shuddered slightly. “Returning to normal space. All systems are green.” The blue and green jewel that was Trisitania loomed large in the main screen.

“XO, report,” Zomulin ordered.

“Initial scans indicate that there are currently 572 civilian ships and three military ships in orbit around Trisitania,” her XO said.

“Identify them,” she ordered, meaning the military ships.

“They read as Infinity-class destroyers, registered as Task Force G7,” he replied.

“Open a channel,” she said. After a few seconds, the communications officer gave her a nod, and she continued speaking. “Task Force G7, this is Captain Kryla Zomulin of the cruiser Decimator, flagship of His Majesty Emperor Extrator IV. We are moving into orbit around Trisitania in order to transport the Emperor down to the Palace. You are hereby commanded to pledge allegiance to the Emperor or face destruction. How do you respond?” There was a moment of silence while everyone on the bridge waited for a response.

Decimator, this is Commander Sirin Lonsim of the destroyer Limitless Wind,” came the response. “As commander of Task Force G7, I hereby state that we have received your message and pledge our allegiance to Extrator IV.” Captain Zomulin couldn’t help but let out a little sigh of relief at this response, which drew a scowl from the Emperor and an encouraging nod from Lors.

“Acknowledged, Limitless Wind,” Zomulin said. “Stand by for further orders.” She waited a moment, and then spoke again to her crew. “Helm, move into orbit around the planet. Comm, signal the rest of the fleet to follow our lead.” She pressed a button on the control panel in front of her. “Dropship control, prepare for troop deployment to the surface.” At this, the Emperor gave her one last glare, and left the bridge with his retinue to go join his troops. Zomulin let out a much larger sigh of relief once he was gone.

“Well, Admiral,” she said to Lors, “you were right. That was much easier than I expected.” Lors smiled and came down to stand next to her.

“You really should listen to me, Kryla,” he said fondly. “I usually know what I’m talking about.” Then his smile faded and his demeanor grew grimmer. “I’m afraid the easy part is over, though. The people of Trisitania are in turmoil, and will not look fondly on what they see as a military invasion by yet another pretender to the throne. There will be blood in the streets before this is over.” He sighed, and in Kryla’s eyes, he seemed to grow twenty years older in an instant. She shivered, imagining the fire and death that was still coming for the Empire.

To be continued…